Cpl. Zach Moak and Officer James White were present in that courtroom in Lincoln County Wednesday as surely as their killer, Marquis Flowers, was.
In what could be described an act of mercy by the defense, Flowers changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in the 2018 shooting death of the two Brookhaven police officers. His plea not only truncated the process for the families, but it kept heartbreaking body camera footage and audio from being played in an open court — sounds and sights of officers White and Moak responding to help Flowers, who had been shot, and then being killed by him.
The families of Moak and White were there in force, as they’ve been every hearing along the way since their loved ones were killed. And Flowers’ family was there, carrying the knowledge there was nothing they could do to stop what had happened or what was about to happen.
The courtroom was full of law enforcement, there to see justice done by their brothers. The noteworthy absence was that of Brookhaven Chief Kenny Collins, but several Brookhaven officers were inside and outside the courtroom. Sheriff Steve Rushing, was on hand — he knew both Moak and White but had also lost a deputy of his own the year before when William Durr was killed in the line of duty, so he felt all too well the sting of justice that isn’t really closure.
Flowers was sentenced to life in prison for both counts of first degree murder, as well as 10 years for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Special Judge Richard McKinley appointed the sentences to be run concurrently.
“There’s no victories in this. We’ve got two families and an entire community still at a loss, and now they’re just dealing, and that’s the best we can do,” said Flowers’ attorney, Kelsey Rushing, no relation to Sheriff Steve Rushing.
On the morning of September 29, 2018, Moak and White responded to a shots fired call. When they got to the location, they saw a blood trail that they followed to find Flowers in a shed. He opened fire, killing White. Moak attempted to get Flowers in handcuffs and was shot in the process, his dying act being to try to pull White to safety.
As White’s mother, Laurie, and sister Lisa gave their victim impact statements, Flowers stared at the table in front of him, his expression unreadable because of his mask. But when White’s father, James White, took the stand, Flowers raised his eyes.
“When my son was killed, for the first time in my life, I felt hate,” White said. “I battle with it now every day. I pray that one day I can forgive and put it behind me.”
The senior White said, as Moak’s father Walter would say just minutes later, that he had not only lost his son, but his best friend. The families talked about how their fallen sons and brothers would miss holidays and special occasions from now on, and no new memories will be made. Each one who spoke begged the court to impose the maximum sentence possible.
Walter Moak recalled in great detail the morning his son was killed. It’s an image he’ll never forget, he said.
“I could see the blood on the floor and on the sheets and there was nothing I could do,” he said. “The pain is just in me, and it will never come out. The pain keeps me alive.”
When Moak’s mother Vicki came to the stand, Flowers looked down at first, but then met her eyes when she addressed him directly.
“He begged you to give that gun up, and all you had to do was show your hands,” she said. “Just show your hands.”
Flowers addressed the court and maintained he did not know who he was shooting at, and addressed the courtroom to say so. He expressed his grief for the families, but said that he wasn’t altogether aware of what was going on that morning since he had been shot. He called the shootings “an accident.” His brother addressed the court as well, talking about how Flowers was a good big brother who cared for his family and worked hard to provide.
“I feel for his family but to hear him say over and over that it was an accident… and there was no accident there,” said Leslie Kelly, a family member of White’s.
Steve Rushing said putting the Flowers case to rest will be a welcome relief for law enforcement in Brookhaven and Lincoln County.
“It’s been tough. It’s bene a tough three years here. Hopefully this helps the family a little bit,” he said. “We still miss the guys. It’s still raw, I gues you’d say.”
Flowers was previously convicted of auto burglary charges in Lincoln and Pike counties. He was charged in Natchez with taking a motor vehicle and four counts of auto burglary, fleeing from authorities in a high-speed chase in February 2017. He later turned himself in but was released on bail.
Flowers was a fugitive at the time of the Brookhaven shootings after failing to appear for a court date.
He has been taken into the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections to serve out the rest of his life in prison.
Mary Apel contributed to this report.